The beginning of the end is finally here. That is, the beginning of the end of ex-gay torture clinics in Ecuador. While homosexuality is technically legal in Ecuador, the reality is that a dangerous underground culture of homophobia still exists throughout the country. Until recently, LGBT women and men in Ecuador were being held against their will at hundreds of so-called "clinics" that used torture and physical abuse to "cure" them of being gay. As more and more victims escaped and started speaking out, they revealed a network of nearly 200 illegal clinics posing as drug rehabilitation centers, promising to turn patients straight, and using sexual abuse, starvation, humiliation, and torture to achieve their goals.
This is where Fundación Causana's work began. The LGBT activist group has been working for the last 10 years to deconstruct homophobia in Ecuador. Among their biggest challenges has been getting the country's Ministry of Health to stop turning a blind eye and address the issue of gay torture clinics that are prevalent within the country.
One of the first voices to speak out was that of 24-year-old Paola Ziritti. Paola's parents knew they were sending her to a forced-confinement clinic, but they had no idea just how awful it would be. Once Paola's mother realized what she'd done, she tried to get her daughter back, but the clinic said no. The process to free Paola took a year. "I spent two years in one such facility and for three months was shackled in handcuffs while guards threw water and urine on me," said Paola, who describes numerous accounts of physical and sexual abuse during her "rehabilitation." "Why is the clinic where I suffered still open?" she asks.
Now, Paola's nightmare, and those of hundreds of young men and women who are still trapped in clinics in Ecuador, is finally about to end. This past November Fundación Causana started an online campaign on Change.org, the world's fastest-growing platform for social change. Within weeks, the campaign collected over 100,000 signatures from supporters across the globe asking the former Minister of Health, Dr. David Chiriboga Allnut, to take action and immediately investigate the clinics.
In the beginning of the new year, officials were finally ready to meet with Fundación Causana and take responsibility for the violence against women and LGBT Ecuadorians happening on their watch. Now the Ecuadorian government is working hand-in-hand with Fundación Causana and other local organizations to investigate and close clinics, free the hundreds trapped inside, and launch a national public awareness campaign to fight homophobia.
"After 10 years of outcry, the nation of Ecuador -- through the Ministry of Public Health -- has entered into a commitment with civic organizations and society in general, to deconstruct the belief that homosexuality is an illness and root out the use of torture in these clinics," said Fundación Causana spokesperson Karen Barba.
This welcome announcement comes with more exciting news for LGBT people in Ecuador. President Correa announced Wednesday the replacement of resigning Health Minister Dr. David Chiriboga Allnut. Taking his place is Carina Vance Mafla, an openly gay LGBT activist and former director of Fundación Causana. The women who led the effort to expose the ex-gay torture clinics will now be in charge of leading the country's Ministry of Heath.
It took an international outcry to elevate the voices of Fundación Causana, but the government of Ecuador is finally listening. Soon, hundreds of men and women trapped inside ex-gay clinics will be able to return home.